Box Tops for Education – The Costs and Benefits

Campbell's soup

A few years ago, my parents’ church was collecting Campbell’s Soup labels for a school that was saving them up to get a van. I hate to throw away anything that somebody can use, so I started saving my family’s labels, but the collection jar was gone by the time I actually remembered to take the labels along on a visit to the church. Not wanting to waste the labels, I posted them on eBay for a penny – I figured someone could use them – and was surprised when they sold for more than four dollars.

Soon thereafter, I got into a discussion with some friends about the Campbell’s Labels for Education and General Mills’ Box Tops for Education programs. One friend, an accountant, commented that the labor costs of having school personnel count and process the labels or box tops so that they’re in the form in which the companies want them to be submitted can easily be higher than the cost of actually buying whatever it is the school was saving for (or the equivalent cash earned). It was a thought I hadn’t considered.

Educational incentive programs are, of course, promotions companies use to get you to buy their products. The amount of time people spend clipping and saving the labels/box tops isn’t particularly important to them. After all, unredeemed labels/box tops mean more money in the company’s coffers. If the companies’ motives for these programs were purely philanthropic, they could choose to give whether or not consumers bought anything. (For that matter, parents could also donate time or money to a school without buying any products.)

A school’s actual earnings from educational incentive programs are not the only benefits of such programs, however. Students who save box tops learn how small amounts can add up. They see the value of saving and also develop a sense of school spirit by working together toward a goal. Older students and parents can choose to volunteer time counting box tops so that the school district doesn’t have to pay staff to do it, and volunteering benefits both the community and the volunteers (who can feel that they’ve done a good thing by helping someone else). Plus, knowing that the expected company donation was figured into the retail cost of the soup or cereal or other food, it seems a shame to waste an easy opportunity to benefit a school.

Are the benefits of educational incentive programs worth the time it takes to tear off, tally, and bundle box tops and labels (or the money you spend to buy them)? Only you – and your school – can decide.

Image courtesy of raisinsawdust

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7 Responses to Box Tops for Education – The Costs and Benefits

  1. disneysteve says:

    I think if the school needs to have paid employees doing the work of organizing the boxtops, it probably doesn’t make sense. That is really a job for volunteers – parents or older students. I know my daughter’s religious school earns a few hundred dollars each year from this program which really helps out.

  2. Kikee says:

    I completely agree. I have little doubt that there are school’s out there who actually pay someone to organize the box tops/labels, etc. Of course, these same schools are undoubtedly the same ones screaming that they don’t have any money for @@ This is something that should be handled by the PTA/PTO or whatever each individual school calls the parents who organize fundraisers. @@

  3. MyEnglishCastle says:

    Commercialism in education is an ongoing issue. For an interesting read on the Box Tops and other programs, including junk food and soda in the schools, check out the work done by Arizona State University and Alex Molnar.

    I doubt that many schools pay for someone to actually count those labels and cardboard bits, but the deeper problems are something we should all be concerned about–both educational funding in general and the corporate culture that insists that children should be their target market and will go to all sorts of extremes to sell them their products.

  4. disneysteve says:

    MyEnglishCastle – I agree with you. There is a great deal of commercialism in schools today. On one hand, it is good because it gets schools much needed money. On the other hand, however, our kids are being bombarded with advertising when they are supposed to be learning.

    Target, for example, has a really great real-world math program where the kids take a field trip to a Target store and have a whole worksheet they have to fill out about shopping, comparing prices, figuring out the best value, deciding how to divide up a certain amount of money to purchase the items they need, etc. I think the educational aspect is excellent, but I’m still bothered by the commercialism underlying it all.

  5. ~Dawn says:

    I learned my math from helping my mother shop, compare prices, figuing price per pound and figure out coupons.

    I don’t have a peticular affinity to one brand or store because of this. I just learned to do math….however, if I wanted a certain game, I knew where it was becuase I had just been at the store.

  6. Ann says:

    Retailers must do the same kinds of manual labor and preparation in order to submit coupons to manufacturers. Wouldn’t it be nice if we found a digital way to do this? Aren’t there stores the donate when you buy certain items, and it all happens through the computer systems? And why not if there aren’t?

  7. Teresa says:

    I don’t know of any school who uses paid employees to process Box Tops for Education or soup labels. My kids have gone to various schools and it’s always been PTA volunteers who do this job.

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